FDA to revamp, redesign nutrition labels

Looking at changes to serving size and other elements

ORLANDO, Fla. - The nutrition label you've known for years is now under the microscope because the government thinks it may be misleading consumers.

Local 6 decided to conduct an informal experiment that revealed just how little those labels actually guide consumers.

We set up a table at Lake Eola in Downtown Orlando, and we had people guess the correct serving size for things like chips, crackers, cereal and candy. We also asked people how much they pay attention to nutrition labels.

Our observations -- most people knew the correct serving size for chips, while almost everyone got the serving size for crackers wrong.

When it came to cereal and candy, the results were mixed -- half of the volunteers guessed the correct serving size, while the other half were way off. Either way, almost everyone agreed that the correct serving size for all these products would not satisfy them.

A lot of people also admitted that they don't usually pay attention to things like calories, fat, sugar, and carbohydrates on nutrition labels. Instead, they're more interested in the ingredients and additives.

Serving size, according to Winter Park dietitian Tara Gidus, is one of the most confusing elements on the current nutrition label.

"Most people aren't going to get 2 1/2 servings out of a 20-ounce soda. They're going to drink the whole thing," says Gidus.

Gidus says that snack goods, like chips and candy, are particularly misleading, because they contain more than one serving. Many consumers are not inclined to do the math before taking a handful-- or bagful.

"Probably less than 20 percent of people would pick the right serving size," says Gidus.

That's why the Food and Drug Administration is looking a new, dual-column display that will show information for both a serving size, and the whole container. That means you'll know what you're consuming in terms of calories, fat, sugar, sodium, and carbohydrates when, for example, you finish off that tub of ice cream, instead of a single serving size.

"I think these proposed changes help us to not be quite as deceived," says Gidus.

Another idea from the FDA is to get rid of the calories from fat section completely. Gidus says it helps no one.

"That just brings a whole lot of math into the equation that confuses people," says Gidus.

The government has also hinted at changing the way it lists daily value percentages.

"Everybody is different based on your gender, your activity level, your metabolism, based on how many calories you need," says Gidus.

A new label might also bring more information about nutrients, which is good news to the consumers who took part in our experiment. Many of them said they only read the food label to study the ingredients.
Whatever consumers are looking for, Gidus says we all may be overlooking a much bigger threat.

"It's the added sugar that puts you at health risk," says Gidus. She said she thinks we need to see a column, showing the difference between naturally occurring and added sugars.

At this point, the FDA hasn't said when we'll see the new changes. But, the agency expects to start the public input phase soon.

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